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United States national team depth chart: It’s Michael Bradley and then everyone else at linking midfield

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Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over A few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Southern California offices.

Next up: LINKING MIDFIEDLERS

Two critical things to know before we even begin a conversation about the U.S. “linking” midfield position. It gets a bit involved, but follow along:

First, Jurgen Klinsmann has consistently maintained that he does not have a preferred formation. Rather, what the U.S. manager carries is a bag full of stylistic tenets that he wants observed: high pressure up the field, playing thoughtfully out of the back rather than hoofing balls blindly, defensive funneling toward trapping spots on the wings, etc.

All that can be accomplished in varying tactical arrangements, a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and so on.

So it bears mentioning that the tactical formation into which his U.S. teams have settled recently is largely based on making best use from a couple of his personnel centerpieces. Foremost is Michael Bradley (pictured above).

Bradley’s role has been defined as the “No. 8” in Klinsmann’s vernacular. That means he plays ahead of a primary holding midfielder while simultaneously tasked with sliding in alongside Jermaine Jones (or whoever occupies the holding spot) as opposition possession proceeds closer to U.S. goal. On the attack Bradley becomes the primary link between U.S. defenders and Jones, and into the attacking specialists such as Clint Dempsey or Graham Zusi or whomever.

Bradley is like an Andrea Pirlo starter kit this way. (And Italy’s gifted offensive maestro is so wonderfully influential that “starter kit” status should in no way be seen as an insult to the most important man in U.S. uniform these days, Bradley.)

The other thing to know about Bradley as it relates to this position: The United States is seriously hosed if something happens to the man. Truly, they lose their midfield controlling arm, their tempo setter, their top passer, their calming and assuring voice. More to the point here, the formation might well change dramatically if Roma’s ever-rising midfielder were to fall, injured.

So there may not be much point in going any further down the depth chart at the “No. 8” spot … but let’s make a little go, anyway.

Sacha Kljestan hardly received swell reviews recently during his turn in the Bradley role; but, truly, what did anyone expect? Kljestan can be a solid, versatile midfield man, but he’s not Bradley. No one in the U.S. player pool is.

Zusi has the technical ability to play inside, where he often patrols for Sporting Kansas City. But he certainly lacks Bradley’s high-level experience, his worldliness. Besides, this would mean finding more answers along the outside, and that means … yes, potentially bringing Landon Donovan into conversation. So, let’s not even go there for now.

Geoff Cameron and Stuart Holden are the intriguing possibilities. Cameron spent time in the attacking midfield role with Houston in MLS, with a mixed bag of results. Holden would look different than Bradley in the role but – assuming he rediscovers his pre-injury self – could potentially provide some attacking muscle, even if his contributions did not resemble Bradley’s.

Check back after the Gold Cup to see how far Holden’s efforts at recovery, steady and diligent, have allowed him to progress up the ordering.

Cameron’s emergence as a holding midfield contingency also means that Jermaine Jones could possibly scoot further ahead in the formation.

Past all that, there’s really no way of ordering a collection of semi-possibilities, the likes of Brad Evans, Jose Torres and even potentially emerging voices in the conversation like Mix Diskerud or Joe Corona. (Or even Donovan … but, again, let’s not go there for now.)

U.S. LINKING MIDFIELD ordering

  • 1. Michael Bradley
  • 2. Sacha Kljestan
  • 3. Graham Zusi
  • 4. Geoff Cameron
  • 5. Jermaine Jones
  • 6. Stuart Holden

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

Coming up tomorrow: right-sided attackers and left-sided attackers

 

Spain names final EURO roster: Lucas Vasquez in, Isco out

CLUJ-NAPOCA, ROMANIA - MARCH 27:  Isco of Spain looks on during the International Friendly match between Romania and Spain held at the Cluj Arena on March 27, 2016 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Spain has announced their final 23-man roster for EURO 2016, where Vicente del Bosque’s men will look to win an unprecedented third-straight European Championship.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

The most notable exclusions from the side are that of Real Madrid’s Isco and Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez. Isco had previously seen regular playing time in the side leading up to the tournament, and the uncapped Saul misses out after a great campaign for Atleti.

Barcelona has five players in the side along with six Premier Leaguers, highlighted by the Chelsea trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas.

With an overflow of talent in the defense and midfield, the biggest question for this Spain side will come up top. There are quality strikers in this team, but the inexperienced group has combined for just 19 caps and four goals at the senior level.

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Porto), David De Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Bruno (Villarreal), Pedro (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City)

Forwards: Nolito (Celta Vigo), Lucas Vasquez (Real Madrid), Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Alvaro Morata (Juventus)

PSG defender Serge Aurier to stand trial in September

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 25:  Serge Aurier #19 of Paris Saint-Germain beats Diego Costa #19 of Chelsea to a loose ball during their Internationl Champions Cup match at Bank of America Stadium on July 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier will stand trial in September after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Paris prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday that Aurier has been released from custody and will appear before a court on Sept. 26.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

Aurier was arrested in the early hours of Monday near the Champs-Elysees following an argument with police after a night out in Paris. Prosecutors said the police officer needed to take a day off work because of the incident.

Aurier was suspended for six weeks in February after a video emerged on social media showing him making derogatory comments about PSG coach Laurent Blanc, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and other players.

The Ivory Coast defender is widely regarded as one of the best right backs in Europe.

Payet, Milner in Top Five of UEFA’s “player barometer” for Euro 2016

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  James Milner of England in action during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s called the “ultimate form tracker” for players heading into Euro 2016, it’s hardly boring, and you’ll likely be surprised at the Top Ten.

UEFA has a sophisticated “player barometer” that tracks statistics for all players’ form before June’s tournament in France.

It’s no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo is first and Zlatan Ibrahimovic second, unless you had them flip-flopped. And Antoine Griezmann as third, Dimitri Payet fourth? Sure.

[ EURO 2016: England squad releasedGermany, too ]

But fifth is James Milner of Liverpool and England, one of only three players in the Top Ten who aren’t from UEFA Champions League finalists Atletico and Real Madrid (Ibrahimovic and Payet are the others).

How does the weight work?

As the Barometer acts as a form tracker, the more recent the match, the higher the weighting assigned to the data from it i.e. player stats from yesterday are given more significance than those from last week. If a player is not active (e.g. due to injury or non-selection), his ranking will decrease over that period of inactivity.

Additional weighting is attributed for quality of opposition using UEFA coefficients as the foundation of the values.

Once UEFA EURO 2016 starts, statistical events (e.g. goals, assists, tackles, saves) for the 552 players will be given a significantly higher weighting to maintain an accurate ranking of those performing well in France.

Better chance to advance: Mexico or USMNT at Copa America Centenario?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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We placed Mexico fifth and the USMNT seventh in our rankings of contenders for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Friday in California.

But how wide is the distance between the two sides, and is any gap in talent mitigated by bigger challenges in schedule?

That’s what we’ll try to suss out here.

Mexico embarrassed the United States in the CONCACAF Cup playoff match this Fall, and both sides have since seen more good results than bad.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The Yanks, of course, suffered the ignominy of a 2-0 defeat in Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, but are 7-1-1 in their last nine matches. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have looked especially strong in the past match-and-a-half, dominating both Ecuador and Bolivia.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Hector Herrera #16 of Mexico protects the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of the United States during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

El Tri hasn’t lost since the 2015 Copa America, and that was not a full-strength squad. Following the tournament, Mexico began a 12W-6D run which includes a Gold Cup win — suspect as the run was —  and a draw against Argentina. No, El Tri hasn’t beaten many opponents of power during the run, but the record is far from shaky.

Honestly, Mexico should expect to make a run at history. While they stumbled in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, their U-23s won gold at the 2012 Olympics. This generation of El Tri has been building upward, more or less, since that tournament.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Mexico has rarely had trouble with group mates Jamaica or Mexico, and Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez. It would be shocking if El Tri failed to advance from the group, and Mexico should have a chance to win the group. Argentina or Chile likely await in the quarters, so the semifinals are neither a given nor particularly likely.

The U.S. is in a different spot altogether. Yes, they should be able to advance from Group A, but their host status is the only thing that will make them heavy favorites in any match. Costa Rica went further than the Yanks at World Cup, and Paraguay has drawn Argentina twice, Brazil twice (once losing in penalties) and Uruguay once in the past calendar year.

Britain Soccer USA Colombia
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Yanks should be favored to finish above both those teams, but could be in a hole if they don’t start fast against Colombia on Friday in California. Colombia won its only warm-up match, a 3-1 decision over Haiti in Florida last week, but did not have star man James Rodriguez yet.

Winning the group is key for Klinsmann’s knockout round hopes, as Brazil should easily win Group B and face Group A’s runner-up. There’s a world of difference between facing Ecuador, Peru or Haiti, or tangling with Brazil.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

So you could honestly make the case that while Mexico is far more dangerous side in this tournament, especially given their proximity to home, the United States edging Colombia for Group B gives them a far better chances of making the semis. The best team doesn’t always win. However, if the U.S. finishes second in Group A, it’s very difficult to imagine them taking down Brazil given September’s 4-1 thrashing at Foxborough.

The question is, would you fancy Mexico to have a better chance of upending Chile or Argentina? Most would say, “Yes.”